MEEKER I The Bureau of Land Management has released a draft Resource Management Plan Amendment (RMPA) for the White River region that could allow for an unprecedented level of oil and gas development in the Piceance Basin region near Meeker. Conservationists and sportsmen, including hunters and anglers, will be working to improve the agency’s plan to ensure that sensitive lands and wildlife would not be permanently impacted.
The draft plan, funded entirely by the oil and gas industry, could allow for up to 21,200 new oil and gas wells in the area, far and away the largest number of wells ever analyzed by the BLM in Colorado. The Piceance Basin lies within the area being analyzed by the BLM and has been a center of oil and gas activity on the west slope for decades. However, some question whether the BLM has swung the pendulum too far towards development and away from the other important and sustainable activities valued by locals in the region that are also economic drivers. The BLM manages approximately 1.5 million acres in the White River Field Office. The area also boasts North America’s largest elk herd, one of its largest mule deer herds, as well as significant populations of the imperiled greater sage-grouse. The BLM has also identified nearly 230,000 acres of potential wilderness quality lands.
“Sportsmen like me come from all over the world to hunt and fish the lands around the White River,” said Craig, Colo., resident Allan Reishus, “If this plan goes through as currently proposed, instead of being the domain of the elk and the mule deer, these lands will become the domain of drill rigs, heavy machinery and semi-truck traffic. The scale of this development is incomprehensible.”
Despite the fact that 73 percent of the oil and gas resources managed by the White River Field Office are already leased, the BLM’s preferred alternative for the plan would not impose any meaningful limits on oil and gas development in lands that are already being managed to maintain their wilderness values and would open up much of these areas to further leasing and development.
“A portion of the wildlands of the White River Field Office were leased and developed during the last administration, so protecting the remainder becomes that much more important,” said Luke Schafer of Colorado Environmental Coalition. “The BLM needs to recognize this and at the very least set aside some significant acreage so that there are areas of refuge from this proposed huge increase in new natural gas development so that some balance is retained.”
The area lies in the heart of the west slope’s oil and gas activity and downwind of the large developments in the Uinta Basin of Utah, which has led to the region seeing declining air quality in recent decades. Wintertime ozone pollution in the area can exceed the levels of major cities such as Los Angeles.
“This area has dealt with the struggles presented by ‘boom and bust’ development and all its associated impacts,” said Reed Kelley of Meeker, Colo. “Dramatically increasing these activities by potentially allowing up to 21,000 wells to be developed can only lead to even worse air quality, more threats to our water resources and a larger strain on our infrastructure and social services.”
The fact that the plan was paid for by the oil and gas industry is also drawing attention from conservationists.
“This plan was entirely funded by the oil and gas industry,” said Soren Jespersen of The Wilderness Society. “And coincidence or not, the results include the largest proposed development in Colorado history. Such a huge increase in the number of wells cannot help but have significant impacts the Meeker area, both its wildlife populations and its way of life. BLM needs to abandon this industry-funded plan and begin a full resource management plan revision so that all the multiple uses of these public lands can have their say.”
The Wilderness Society is the leading public-lands conservation organization working to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places. Founded in 1935, and now with more than 500,000 members and supporters, TWS has led the effort to permanently protect 110 million acres of wilderness and to ensure sound management of our shared national lands. www.wilderness.org
Colorado Environmental Coalition is Colorado’s Voice for Conservation since 1965. www.ourcolorado.org